A groin pull -- or groin strain -- results from putting too much stress on muscles in your groin and thigh. If these muscles are tensed too forcefully or too suddenly, they can get over-stretched or torn.
Groin pulls are common in people who play sports that require a lot of running and jumping. In particular, suddenly jumping or changing direction is a likely cause. Groin pulls often appear in people who play soccer and football, and they make up about 10% of all injuries in professional hockey players.
What Does a Groin Pull Feel Like?
Here are some symptoms of a groin pull:
- Pain and tenderness in the groin and the inside of the thigh
- Pain when you bring your legs together
- Pain when you raise your knee
- A popping or snapping feeling during the injury, followed by severe pain
Groin pulls are often divided into three degrees of severity:
- 1st degree: Mild pain, but little loss of strength or movement
- 2nd degree: Moderate pain, mild to moderate strength loss and some tissue damage
- 3rd degree: Severe pain, severe loss of strength and function due to a complete tear of the muscle
To diagnose a groin pull, your doctor will give you a thorough physical exam. Tests like X-rays and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) may be needed to rule out other problems.
What's the Treatment for a Groin Pull?
Happily, a groin pull will usually heal on its own. You just need to give it some time and rest. To speed the healing, you can:
- Ice the inside of your thigh to reduce pain and swelling. Experts recommend doing it for 20 to 30 minutes every 3 to 4 hours for 2 to 3 days, or until the pain is gone.
- Compress your thigh using an elastic bandage or tape.
- Take anti-inflammatory painkillers. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen and naproxen, will help with pain and swelling. But studies show their effects are controversial especially if taken long-term. Additionally, these drugs can have side effects; they should be used only occasionally unless your doctor specifically says otherwise.
To assist tissue healing, your medical provider will guide you in active stretching and strengthening exercises. Depending on grade of injury, this can start immediately or may require several days of rest. Pain is used as a guide. Too aggressive and further damage may occur.
Groin pulls can become chronic if the reason it happened is not determined and treated. Your physician or physical therapist should evaluate your core, hips, and lower extremities for potential sources such as weakness or instability that may be adding stress to the groin. Treatments that address not only the groin but also dysfunctions affecting the groin speed up recovery and minimize the risk of recurrence.
Most of the time, these conservative treatments will do the trick. But not always. If these techniques still don't help, you may want to think about surgery. While surgery may give you relief, it's a last resort. Not everyone can return to their previous level of activity afterward.
So talk over the pros and cons of surgery with your doctor. You should also consider getting a second opinion.
When a Groin Pull Feels Better, What Then?
Everyone wants to know how quickly they can get back in the game after a groin pull -- and how soon the pain will go away. But there's no easy answer. Recovery time depends on how serious your groin pull is. It may take 4 to 6 weeks, but that's just a rough estimate. People heal at different rates.
In the meantime, switch to a new activity that won't put too much stress on your groin muscles. For instance, runners could try swimming.
Whatever you do, don't rush things. Don't try to return to your old level of physical activity until:
- You can move your leg on the injured side as freely and as easily as your other leg
- The leg on your injured side feels as strong as the leg on the uninjured side
- You feel no pain when you walk, the jog, then sprint, and finally jump
If you start pushing yourself before your groin pull is healed, you could re-injure yourself. And if you get further groin pulls, they may be harder to treat and take longer to heal. They can even lead to permanent disability.
How Can I Prevent Groin Pulls?
Given that groin pulls can be painful and debilitating, the best advice is to prevent them. You should:
- Always warm up your legs and groin muscles before physical activity. A light jog or other activities to increase body temperature have been shown to reduce risk of muscle stains.
- Wear shoes with good support that fit well.
- Always increase the intensity of your physical activity slowly -- no more than a 10% increase a week.
- Stop exercising if you feel pain or tightness in your groin or the inside of your thigh.
- Do regular strengthening exercises for your thigh muscles, especially if you've had a groin pull before.
Groin injuries can result from added stress due to weakness elsewhere. If involved in athletics and you have a history of groin injuries, ask your medical professional about activities that can help reduce your risk.